Reporting on the front lines of history in Greece

Author: js5 (page 2 of 2)

‘Kantina’ culture: A friendly place in an unfriendly world

Katerina Kechagia , who runs a cafe outside Moria migrant camp, hugs Azin, a young Iraqi girl who lives in Moria. Photo by Jack Lohmann

By Jack Lohmann

MORIA, Greece — When refugees came to the Greek island of Lesbos, Katerina Kechagia set up shop.

In October 2015, as thousands of migrants from Turkey landed on the shores of the island, Kechagia pulled her canteen trailer to the center of the action. A sort of café, snack bar and convenience shop all rolled into one and set on wheels, Greek “kantinas” traditionally catered to tourists on beaches. But as tourism dried up in the face of the refugee crisis, Kechagia and others began serving migrants instead.

Parked barely outside the coiled razor wire marking the boundaries of the Moria refugee camp, Kechagia sold food, coffee and tobacco to refugees and aid workers.

“We decide to come here because we knew that we would have work all over the year,” instead of just the summer months, Kechagia said.


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The masseuse in the refugee camp

Photo by Andie Ayala


By Ethan Sterenfeld

MYTILENE, Greece – Men lounged on benches in the shade and children kicked soccer balls on the gravel next to the sign that read “Kara Tepe Square.” A short walk down a path, vendors hawked falafel, french fries and beer under the midday Greek sun.

A similar scene might be found in many towns across the world but this happened in the Kara Tepe refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, two miles down the road from the island’s capital, Mytilene.

Kara Tepe was originally a temporary stop for migrants who washed ashore from Turkey, just a few miles away over the Aegean Sea. They would wait a few days in Lesbos before taking the ferry to Athens and the European mainland. The rules governing migration changed in 2016 due to an agreement between the European Union and Turkey, so migrants are now required to remain on Lesbos.

An administrator at the site said that she prefers the term “village” for Kara Tepe, and she also referred to it as a “hospitality center” during a tour given to visiting journalists on Thursday. The change in language, along with the colorful murals lining some walls, underscores the camp’s change in purpose to a long-term facility.


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A country of controversy

Nafplio. Photo by Joe Stephens


By Ethan Sterenfeld

NAFPLIO, Greece — Two hours from Athens, across the Isthmus of Corinth and down Motorway 7, lies Nafplio, a city of roughly 30,000 and the original capital of the modern Greek state. The history of Nafplio illustrates the influences on Greece’s concurrent crises of economics and migration.

During the Greek War of Independence, Nafplio and the rest of the Peloponnese were a stronghold of the Greek rebels against the Ottoman Turks. In the past few years, more than a million migrants, mostly Muslims, have traveled from Turkey, the modern descendant of the Ottoman Empire, and into Greece.

Due to a series of wars and international agreements, virtually all of Greece’s Muslim population left the country by the early 20th Century. The three mosques in the center of Nafplio, which were built by the Ottomans, were converted to Christian churches or other uses by this period.

There have not been Islamic centers in Nafplio for at least a century. Although Muslims are still very rare in Nafplio, takes to the continuing refugee crisis, there are tens of thousands of them in the rest of Greece, and those Muslims need mosques in which to pray.

Athens, a city holding nearly 40 percent of the country’s population and 200,000 Muslims, does not have a single official mosque, Public Radio International reported in April. Prayers must be held in makeshift basements and garages.

Ancient hilltop fort at Nafplio. Photo by Joe Stephens

The Golden Dawn, a far-right party that some consider neo-fascists — and which holds 17 seats in the Greek parliament — protested the building of an official mosque in the city, and tried to stop the construction, Al Jazeera reported in November.

Near Nafplio’s former mosques lies the Church of Saint Spyridon, where the first head of the Greek state was assassinated in 1831. Following that event, the European powers that had helped Greece secure independence from the Ottomans installed a German prince, Otto, as the King of Greece.

More than a century later, Germany would occupy Greece during the Second World War, killing hundreds of thousands of Greeks.

Today, Germany is one of the lead players in the Greek debt crisis. Without accepting the harsh austerity measures proposed by Germany in the past decade in exchange for loans, the Greek government would have defaulted. The austerity program is deeply unpopular among Greeks.

The dual histories in Nafplio of the Ottoman mosques and the church that prompted the first takeover of Greece by a German complicate what would already be strained situations in the country.

Nafplio bay at sunset. Photo by Joe Stephens

‘Hands off the squats’

In Athens, many refugees live in abandoned buildings known as squats. The Greek courts recently ruled that all occupants must be evicted, including at the well-known City Plaza Hotel. On June 23, opposition to the ruling was the focus of a rally outside the federal housing ministry. Our video team captured the action. 

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